March 1, 2016 – Researched, designed and field-tested for over a decade, SideStix™ has earned a reputation for engineering the best performance enhancing mobility devices on the planet. But are they suitable for our vets?
As new technologies for prosthesis and orthopedic equipment continues to improve and evolve, more and more veteran amputees are looking for the best non-invasive options to maintain their active lifestyles. For those vets wanting some choice and maybe a little flexibility around the performance gear they’ll eventually rely on for independent mobility, a new type of tech is changing the game in the existing market.
SideStix are custom built for each client (but are also user-height-adjustable). Comprising ergonomic forearm geometry, palm-flare grips, damping shock absorbers and interchangeable tips, (including shoulder-strain-reducing rotating tips,) SideStix are made from aircraft grade aluminum, carbon fiber and high-strength plastics. Although SideStix were originally created for Co-Founder (and amputee,) Sarah Doherty, they are now being enjoyed by clients with a range of mobility challenges, from spinal stenosis, to SCI, post-polio, MS and any other condition that requires mobility assistance.
To date, this small, but growing, Canadian based company has built and shipped almost 1,700 pairs of Stix. However, only 40 pairs have been claimed by vets! While the company has existing insurance contracts through both Canadian and US Veteran Affairs offices, many vets are unaware that SideStix are even an option for them.
This low intake of veteran orders may be in part due to the backlog of US VA claims, as claims and benefits continue to be an issue for US War Vets. According to the VA Claims Backlog Working Group, as of May 2015 there remained around 461,000 claims that were in the processing phase throughout the 56 VAROs nationwide, and 188,000 of which have been pending more than 125 days.
When asked about the process for insurance coverage, SideStix Co-Founder Kerith Perreur-Lloyd stated,“We have no idea how many people have been successful in getting reimbursed by their insurance companies, either a percentage of the cost – or at all! We provide advice on the best steps to get Stix covered, however every insurance company (and even the same insurance company – but in different states) is different.”
Although SideStix are covered by the VA, there are major delays for vets wading through the approval process of their local health system. Most Vets are already experiencing an exorbitant amount of wait time; just to get the care they need, straight out of the forces. Waiting for insurance coverage for their Stix could be seen as adding ‘insult to injury’.
Some vets have chosen to avoid the insurance process altogether, and have decided to purchase SideStix at their own expense. This way they avoid the long and sometimes frustrating experience of dealing with insurance companies, plus they are immediately able to benefit from increased mobility and reduced pain. On this subject, Kerith went on to say, “In my experience, there are 2 ways to deal with insurance, with regards to SideStix – either apply for pre-approval (having provided a quote, justification letter and doctor’s prescription) or purchase the Stix and submit the receipt, plus a justification letter and a doctor’s prescription. The downside of waiting for pre-approval is that it may take several months, during which time you won’t be benefitting from SideStix.”
One of the biggest challenges SideStix Ventures faces is spreading awareness of their assistive devices and getting medical professionals to actually recommend SideStix (as opposed learning about the product from their clients.) Most doctors and physical and occupational therapists are inundated with new products & procedures every day. Unless a particular item peaks their interest, most of what comes into their ‘in tray’ ends up in the ‘recycle bin’.
Sarah Doherty, who is an occupational therapist herself, agrees, “We’ve been to MANY conferences and spoken to hundreds of doctors, surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, however the majority of requests for SideStix are driven by the end user – the person with ‘their hands on the grips’. Medical professionals will often prescribe or recommend a solution to a mobility issue with the least expensive product that will ‘do the job’ in the short term, because they are working on ‘annual budgets’. If a low-cost (temporary) solution can be found that has a minimal impact on medical budgets TODAY, then it becomes someone else’s problem to fix the secondary injuries TOMORROW.”
Many notable veteran organizations are teaming up with Kerith and Sarah, because SideStix are designed and built to perform in the most extreme conditions. “Soldier On”, “Wounded Warriors”, “Heroes Project”, and “Battle Back”, to name a few, have Stix users involved in their extreme expeditions and general ‘bad-ass’ sport activities. All of these organizations have the goal of getting vets to overcome their personal barriers and break down the walls of adversity they now face.
Speaking of extreme expeditions, SideStix isn’t only getting around these days, it’s also going up! SideStix has been infamous amongst mountain climbers, as the best gear to summit some of the world’s most beautiful peaks.
Since Sarah Doherty summited Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) in 2009, dozens have followed her lead. SideStix users are climbing mountains like Lobuche (Himalayas), Denali (Alaska), Mt. Rainier (WA), Aconcagua (Chile), Mt. Elbrus (Russia) and more.
By focusing their efforts to get SideStix into the hands of every vet who needs them, this powerful little company has influenced many conversations about the much needed support that our vets deserve (and may not be actually receiving). As mobility assistive devices are not just a ‘quick fix’ for vets, finding a way to pioneer this paradigm-shifting technology into the mainstream is becoming just as important as the technology itself.